Oshakati — HIV/AIDS infection risk at Namibian tertiary institutions is "alarming", according to a research paper presented at the Namibia Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA) conference in Oshakati last week.
The research was conducted under the guidance of the Director of Post-graduate Studies Unit at the University of Namibia (Unam), Professor Roderick Zimba,and the Head of the Department of Educational Foundations and Management, Faculty of Education at Unam, Dr Gilbert Likando.
It covered hostel residents at Unam, Polytechnic of Namibia and the four colleges of education that have since been transformed into Unam satellites.
The study was conducted among a sample of 629 students that attend higher education institutions countrywide, an initiative to strengthen AIDS response in the higher education sector.
According to Zimba, the research looked at factors that may promote prevalence of HIV/AIDS infection risk at these institutions.
"The research, among others, looked at infection risk factors that relate to alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, safety and security and customary beliefs and traditions that might underlie the risky factors," he revealed.
Zimba told the meeting that despite the fact that a number of studies were done in HIV infection risk, attitudes and practices in tertiary institutions in Namibia, spoke of high-risk behaviour. "We are, however, unaware of a systematic and in-depth study on factors that could promote HIV infection in tertiary institutional hostels."
According to Zimba, the study among others found that 83 percent of all institutions had no HIV/AIDS hostel policies and that 80 percent of the respondents claimed that there were no access restrictions at hostels. Only Unam has an HIV/AIDS policy.
However, rules and regulations that govern hostel students are either not in existence or not enforced at the university.
"It is a worrying finding that people come and go as they wish from these campuses without any control," he said.
He revealed that the study also found that the scarcity of hostel accommodation at tertiary institutions results in "squatting". According to the study, 40 percent of the respondents reported that unmarried male and female students "squatted" in the same rooms.
"This posed HIV infection risk when those squatting may be required to pay 'in kind' for accommodation," he said.
The focus groups' discussions revealed that older men or women often flirted with young girls or boys in exchange for accommodation, which the study researcher referred to as "the practice operated as a 'sugar daddy' or 'sugar mummy' syndrome".
"Scarcity of accommodation made many hostel residents vulnerable to sexual exploitation," said Zimba.
The study also found that 54 percent of the respondents reported that sexual harassment took place in the hostels - particularly when perpetrators are under the influence of alcohol, while 72 of the respondents indicated that the abuse involved not only male hostel resident, but also non-resident older men.
Other findings of the study are the myths about HIV infection, false assumptions, a belief and value system that would promote infection, wrong information about infection and peer pressure as justification for engaging in unprotected sex.
According to Zimba, "stereotyping and fatalistic" thinking was displayed when participants made statements such as "practice makes perfect; using a condom is a sin; sex is nature - you add a condom, you interfere with nature; real men should sleep with many girls; enjoy sex while you are still alive; even if you protect yourself, you will die anyway; and you become famous when you have more than one girl friend".
The report's recommendations included consultative workshops to be held and that stakeholders be made aware of sexual relational HIV risk inherent in hostel life.
Community members in particular should be made aware of their role in combating the risk by discouraging practices such as those of sugar daddies as well as the myth on HIV.
The report will be finalised soon and disseminated for information sharing.